On left and right

In the wake of our heated discussion of distributism, commenter Charlie Collier and I have been corresponding via e-mail. We tend to butt heads due to differing temperaments and differing approaches to dialogue, but ultimately it has pushed me to clarify the reasons behind my preference for the left-wing tradition and my dismissal of right-wing solutions as ultimately fantasies.

My preference is not based in a comparison of the various body counts or of any other obvious assessment of whether one side has been “worse” than the other — obviously both left- and right-wing revolutions have included their own horrors, though just as obviously the number of people who facelessly met their premature demise as a result of the inhuman priorities of capitalism is much greater than both put together.

No, my preference is based fundamentally on my assessment of the problem. Capitalism is a universal and universalizing force, an amazingly adaptable and expansionary force that can bring seemingly everything under its sway. As such, any solution to that problem has to operate on the same level of universality. The left recognizes the universal scope of the problem, and even if its concrete attempts at a solution are exhausting themselves at present (sadly even its reformist solution of social democratic welfare states), it still has enduring relevance as the tradition that has most convincingly diagnosed the nature and scope of the problem facing contemporary humanity. It is an indispensible starting point.

By contrast, the right wing response to capitalism is to attempt to erect some type of particularity as a bulwark against it. Most famously, the right in its most destructive form of fascism puts forth the nation as that stronghold. I’ve gotten a lot of push-back about my rule that the “third way” between capitalism and socialism always turns out to be a new form of fascism, but my justification is that those “third ways” are always about elevating some particularity as the way past the deadlock of capitalism. Many such attempts at a particular solution like this may be admirable and may contain things that other movements should emulate or use — but at best they’re going to be smashed by the force of capitalism, and at worst they’re going to be coopted and wind up reinforcing capitalism all the more.

I would also embrace a principle of convertibility here, according to which strategies of particularity — and especially those strategies that have principled objections to universalizability — are in essence right-wing movements, even if they embrace many principles that the traditional left finds congenial. Catholic Social Teaching is an example here, and most (though not all!) forms of “Christian politics” that I am familiar with fall into the same category. Distributism would be another example, as would rural-focused localisms.

It’s perhaps needlessly inflammatory for me to dismiss them all as “fascism,” but I do think it’s conceptually sound to call them right wing — and if critics of socialism always jump to Stalin, it seems only fair to jump to the most destructive form of right-wing politics for rhetorical effect.

And so I stand by my basic typology of political options in the modern capitalist world, which is based on my diagnosis of the nature of capitalism. In the center, you have liberalism, for which capitalism is here to stay and must simply be managed (and sometimes that “management” is held to consist in leaving it to its own devices). The attempts to get rid of capitalism can be classified as either trying to replace it with a system of similar universality and universalizability (left-wing) or retreating into a particularity that will shield us from its effects (right-wing). That really is how the situation is laid out: you have socialism (left-wing) or capitalism (liberalism), and the only place for a “third way” to land is on the right wing (whose exemplary form is fascism). There are of course possible objections to this schema, but I’m tired of people acting like it’s intellectual laziness on my part to hold to it.

144 thoughts on “On left and right

  1. You could even extend this rule within the realm of liberalism (which has its own left-right axis, between mitigating the damage of capitalism or else encouraging its growth at all costs) — when you hear someone selling a “Third Way” beyond left and right, it always turns out to embrace the right-hand side.

  2. There is a certain sense in which the tradition of the Left has also historically stood with the poorest as a kind of singular (if we’re avoiding the particular) universal. Whereas Right-wing politics will pay some form of lip service to a particularized poor, like good, white Germans in Nazi Germany or good, hard-working white folk in America, it always has to scapegoat some other particular poor population or even go the perverse step of claiming that they have been dis-empowered by a group that is in reality nearly powerless in comparison (African-Americans as leeching off the State). The Left has always argued for a universality of the human being, our generic quality, and that is most fully expressed in the poverty that the majority of the world (80%) lives in.

  3. Can either you or APS help clarify the rejection of localism in terms of action? In the earlier thread the approach of ‘act local, think global’ was rejected on the ground that it is simply recaptured in the prevailing logic of capitalism (as you state here) but I fail to see how action can be anything other than local and that a diversity of local expressions can work in accord with the larger diagnosis. What is it to act universally? Your position as I understand it seems to privilege those with particular capacities and means thereby excluding participation from those with ‘lesser’ means. This runs counter to your stated goals so I am trying to figure out what I am missing here.

  4. I think one major difference between the Left and “third-way” movements that seem left-wingish is that between clarity and obfuscation. Namely, “the Left” (in the strongest sense) signifies a clear intention: to do away with capitalism through the abolition of class difference. “Third way” movements, however, are always ideological bric-a-bracs or heterogeneous “assemblages,” and are designed not so much as genuine responses to social problems, but more as a means of dissembling by blurring the distinction between radical and reactionary, which is basically what fascism is: co-opting the rhetoric of the Left and revolution while drawing its power from a mix of social classes and the power of the ancien regime (lower-middle classes, some working class, religious institutions, monarchy, right-wing establishment, and above all the military).

    I guess I’m not really adding anything new with that point. More so than anything I find myself just a tiny bit skeptical when certain Christian theologians (say, of the Milbank-sort) arguing for specifically Christian-forms of government/distribution, harkening back to the Middle Ages. It’s not as if they’ve had a bad track record, say, with Jews, on this matter or anything.

  5. David, Obviously we’re all finite beings who can only act in a particular time and place. What I reject is local-ism, which makes the irreducibility of the local a starting place and rejects universalizability in principle — i.e., people who will say “the whole problem with capitalism is that it’s universal; universalism is oppressive in itself; we need local/particular strategies that can never become universal and hence oppressive, etc.” I think we need models that are universalizable, that can be applied (while making adjustments for local circumstances) everywhere, that think through what it would look like for something to be applied universally — something that many ruralists completely refuse to do, even though their strategy presupposes a radically smaller human population than we have now, for example.

  6. I’m having a hard time formulating my thoughts, but the issue of universalizability and universalism is an interesting lens through which to approach these questions.

  7. Thanks for these additional thoughts, Adam. As you know from our email correspondence, almost all of my sympathies are for left-wing alternatives to the problem of capitalist universalism. Yet I do think it’s a mistake for leftists to reproduce the reductionism of the right for rhetorical purposes. Turn about is not fair play. If you doubt, as I hope you do, that all leftists are destined to become Stalinists, then it’s a matter of respect for the other to doubt that all particularists and right-wingers are destined to become fascists. For one thing, there are right-wing anti-nationalists and isolationists, like Daniel Larison, who spend much of their time going after the same bullshit on the right that I’m sure troubles you.

    And then there are versions of localism that grew directly out of the left. Here in Eugene, it’s the 60s radicals and their children who pioneered a local food movement before there was such a thing. The conservative localists like Rod Dreher are just being honest when they call themselves “crunchy cons”—they’re nodding to the hippies who got enough right about food production to persuade them to abandon the laissez faire placelessness of their free-market buddies on the right. Many of these Eugene local foodies also homeschool their children, though you can be assured that young Marley or little Planet Janet is not being put through the paces of the fundy Christian curriculum used with my cousins back in Texas. That these hippies are all anti-war and anti-right-wing only adds to the strangeness of thinking that their emphasis on particularity (local food, local companies, local stores, home education) is somehow the banana peel to fascism.

    I also wonder if it’s not a mistake to concede universalism to capitalism. It’s not really universal—while every person on the planet might be touched by it in some way, there are clear winners and losers. Capitalism presents itself as the potential satisfier every human’s desire, but it’s a false bill of goods. Not only are their human losers, but there are also those stubborn “externalities” that someone else has to deal with—usually the big bad government that is otherwise the favorite whipping boy.

    Thus we shouldn’t seek a universalism to match capitalism’s false version, but a true universalism. I think this happens to be what Christians mean by catholicity. But then this is a universalism that cannot be simply pitted over against “particularity,” since the gospel must be preached, one language, one culture, one village at a time.

    I also think the fact that Christians can’t talk about catholicity without talking about sin and redemption is instructive: capitalism tries to secularize the Christian doctrine of sin (homo economicus, human being as “naturally” a self-seeking profit-maximizer) and then turn it on its head into the positive engine of the world’s redemption (giving into “sin,” now known as consumption, as the way to global freedom and prosperity).

    I wonder if there be a “true” universalism, left-wing or otherwise, without a doctrine of sin. Or if efforts to effect a true universalism without a doctrine of sin (and of course the corresponding doctrines of confession and pardon) are what are truly destined for the shops of horrors at both ends of the spectrum.

  8. I really wish you would lay off the rhetoric policing, Charlie. It bugs me to no end. I admit explicitly that it’s a rhetorical exaggeration to call these right-wing movements fascism — we live in a world where there’s a lot of rhetoric and polemic, and I see no reason that one side should unilaterally disarm. Of course it’s unfair — that’s what hyperbole is all about.

  9. Ok here’s a shot: there are potential layers wherein one might disavow a universal sameness while affirming a heterogeneity that is nonetheless universal in it’s approach to difference. That’s an abstract example, but to adapt it to your wording, what ultimately is the difference, vis-a-vis universalizability, between a strategy in which what is universalized is particularity (the two concepts are not mutually exclusive) versus universalizability that is adapted to particular circumstances. There certainly are enclavist-type uncritical rejections of universalizability that map on to your society of looting, but there are also non-Right wing critiques of homogenizing universalizability as well.

    Also, your invocation of “the principle of convertibility” is basically total bullshit to cover an instance of obvious question begging. I mean that all in a strictly technical sense. I point this out because I really like the clarity of your thinking here, but you have simply said: “Many Right wing movements have adopted particularist strategies, therefore by the made up ‘principle of convertibility,’ the essence of the Right wing is it’s emphasis on particularity,” which seems to be the point in question. Or put more simply “If A, then B” does not imply “If B, then A.” I think you made up “the principle of convertibility.”

  10. Now, a completely separate response to substance: obviously the goal is a better universalism, though I’m not sure that “true” and “false” universalism is the best way to think about it. Both are going to be human products at the end of the day.

    Also not sure about the doctrine of sin as a key — it seems like a lot of people have committed horrors while possessed of a very robust doctrine of sin. In fact, a doctrine of sin can even provide cover for such horrors, since “we’re all sinners, after all.”

    I would say, though, that you need a doctrine of han, in the sense given to it by Korean theologians like Andrew Sung Park. I talk about this at length in Politics of Redemption.

  11. The point that Charlie is making is that in your rush to deftly execute your brilliantly succinct but flawed rhetorical typology, you are overlooking some obvious problems, which he subsequently points out.

    The point about Stalinism is a fair one. If I asked you why the reductio ad Stalin trope was a problem, the answer would be that in addition to being stupid, it actually obscures clear thinking. The same seems to be true with your reversal of the argument. It’s not simply an issue of matching the enemy in a rhetorical arms race.

  12. Hill, Your comment kind of doesn’t make sense to me, so maybe you could try again?

    Also, of course I made up “the principle of convertibility.” But it’s not question-begging, it’s an attempt at a definition. “Right-wing” means taking refuge in particularity, and therefore taking refuge in particularity is “right-wing” to some degree. If you don’t think that’s an adequate definition, propose another one.

  13. The point is not to police but to expose confusion. As, for example, when you say that it’s fair to do what you later say is of course unfair.

  14. I think there is an ambiguity in your use of the word “particularity.” You at once use it to describe nation-state oriented strategies and rural oriented localisms, but your own “universalism” is restricted to a species, or if not a species, a (biological) kingdom or a planet. So the particular/universal antinomy seems to at the least be unclear, and I think it may be obscuring more productive formulations. This is actually a reformulation of what I way saying above. I took your post to be turning on the fact of “particularity” being an(the) essence of the Right wing, but as I’ve said, that is not obvious to me. There may well be something important lost between the “particularity” of an individual and the “particularity” of a nation state or even the “particularity” of homo sapiens.

  15. Look, it’s a typology. Typologies are inherently inadequate — they’re conceptual tools, and no actual-existing political strategy is going to embody any of them purely. Liberalism borrows from the left (social democracy) and the right (nationalism, identitarianism) all the time. Stalin was heavily nationalist. Etc. Life is messy.

    If you think my typology of either accepting capitalism or going for a universalist or particularist solution is completely hopeless, then I’m sorry. But it’s never going to capture the fullness of lived experience because that’s not what typologies do. (Surely you’ve read Christ and Culture, right?)

    To me, the strongest objection to this typology would be rejecting the notion that capitalism is the central problem facing humanity, because that’s the premise, that’s the point where I’m begging the question.

  16. Also, I don’t think rhetorical “fairness” is an end in itself. It’s a tool, a kind of regulative ideal — but it has its limits, particularly when you’re fighting against someone who’s not fighting fair. The nice liberal rules of dialogue were not handed down by God — Jesus, Paul, and all the church fathers were perfectly content to use polemic, hyperbole, sarcasm, etc., and I don’t see why we should hesitate to do so when necessary. I think it’s appropriate to use strong rhetoric against the right wing because I think they’re deluded at best and malicious at worst — maybe they have some good ideas here and there, but being careful to be nice to them isn’t going to affect that one way or another.

    What’s more: The reductio ad Stalin is obviously a rhetorical bomb, but it wouldn’t hit its target if it weren’t getting at a genuine danger of authoritarianism in the leftist tradition. Similarly, the reductio ad fascism to me gets at a genuine danger of the right-wing tradition. For either side to plead “not fair” is not convincing to me, because Stalinism and fascism really did happen and from now on you need to be able to present a convincing account of why that happened and why this time can be different — just like Christians need to take genuine responsibility for thinking through why so many atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity and not just claim that those were external excesses that don’t get at the core of Christianity.

    Dismissing the reductio ad Stalin out of hand is what really obscures clear thinking, by putting us in a “we’re okay you’re okay” type of space that ignores historical reality.

  17. The “hey guys, it’s just a typology” rhetoric is bullshit, but if you are ok with that, that’s fine. Sorry for critiquing something you posted on a blog and expecting a nondisingenuous discussion. You tend to fixate on “rhetoric policing” most vehemently when your arguments have their most obvious flaws.

  18. Adam, sorry if you’ve stated this already somewhere, but which currently or previously existing government gets closest to what you envisage as the tradition (this is not a trick or ‘gotcha’ question)

  19. Hill, Do you know what a typology is? It inherently generalizes and simplifies for the sake of clarity. That’s just what it is. It’s not disingenous to create a typology and respond to objections about generalization and simplification with “it’s a typology.”

    And I always object to rhetorical policing.

  20. I, Anthony Paul Smith, being of sound mind and body and as moderator of AUFS hereby declare that all comments relating to the rhetoric of this post are hereby exhausted and that any future comments will not fuck the future of this conversation, but will be fucked therein by. Seriously, we all get where everyone stands on this, but it’s moving to the point where it is obscuring the conversation.

    On another note, in response to Charlie’s example about the hippies’ in Eugene and how they appear to not be fascist. There is a confusion there between a particular ethical way of living in a community and a universal political program. The Eugene hippies, and again no one is saying that local food is fascist in and of itself (though I’d suggest you listen to my Grey Ecology talk for some discussion of its shortcomings), represent an ethical response that works as a kind of offense or stumbling block to the dominant political establishment. But if you were to try and make that movement a political program it starts to become incoherent as a left-wing program. For instance, home schooling is not inherently left-wing at all.

  21. I don’t think you understand the criticisms. They are not (the good ones at least) “this fails to capture this or that historical phenomenon.” They are “universal” and “particular” are not poles, and by setting them up as such you have made a mistake that renders your typology invalid AS A TYPOLOGY.

  22. Gabe, Communism has clearly fallen on hard times, but I think that China is the best example of a contemporary Marxist-Leninist approach of state-directed capitalist development by a communist party. I don’t think China would be a very good place to live, and it’s not a huge improvement over the horrific environmental record of the Eastern bloc or Maoism, but it’s the last major representative of that particular tradition and seems to be meeting with more success. Venezuela is an example of at least partial state socialism, helped tremendously by its oil reserves. I don’t know that we have a lot of very promising “actual existing” models currently, though.

  23. My vehemence comes from what I perceive to be bad faith on your part in pushing a typology that is so flawed as to be essentially worthless. Other than serving as a kind of post hoc justification for your now famous epigram, what exactly are you hoping to accomplish? You seem to think that by labeling something a typology it thereby becomes immune to all critique. I don’t care which side CST ends up on, and I have my share of criticisms of it. What I have a problem with is your universal/particular antinomy and the ways in which you have mapped that on to left and right. I think the essence of this issue has been made fairly clear.

  24. Hill, It seems crazy to me that you don’t think universalism and particularism are clearly distinct things. Obviously universals only express themselves in particular circumstances, etc., but I’m defining particularism as something that actively rejects universalism. Universalism, by contrast, doesn’t necessarily reject particularity or insist on homogenization — and the reason for this asymmetry is that particularism is reactionary (hence right-wing).

  25. My typology seems to me to be clear and straightforward, relying on terminology and distinctions that are widely accepted. It reflects a position that I was already putting forward in my first published paper, Empire and Eschaton [pdf], where I endorse Badiou and Zizek’s call for a solution to capitalism that operates at the same level of universality and where I reject fixation on particular identities (specifically Christian identity) as a non-starter. I have been consistent on this point, and my remarks about the third way being fascism reflect this basic position — rather than your absurd claim that I’m just trying to come up with some complicated reason not to back down on that epigram. (I have never met anyone on the internet who is so willing to back down in the face of argument as I am — everyone thinks I’m a narrow-minded asshole, but I change my mind in response to people’s objections all the time.)

  26. Is it possible that universalist and particularist options are all management and mitigation options, that capitalism even if you think it’s tantamount to murder, cannot be “got rid of” any more than murder can be got rid of. I can understand minimising it as a star to steer by, but don’t you need to unpack ‘universalism’ as concrete “getting rid of” programme in the way particularism is?

  27. “There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions.” (Mao)

    I wonder if the difference is also a matter of horizons, where those on the right long for the return of a “lost object” like a simple life, organic communities, etc while the very susbtance of revolutions is the hope for a new, hitherto untried project. (i think this might have been said in a previous post)

    What seems very interesting to me is how the contradictions of capitalism itself and its universalising tendencies generate a feeling and belief amongst many that something was actually lost in the passage of time, and the yearning to “return” to a local + particular.

    It seems like this debate is important right now as neo-liberal capitalism seems to be re-embedding itself in the ‘social economy’ with community-run schools and welfare angencies, etc. as a means of insuring itself against the ravages that it creates. And much of this new evolution seems to play on the desire for “community” etc etc

  28. …and I agree with Kotsko’s point about the failed (and dangerous) strategy of “ontologising” a particularity (family, sex, community, etc) and throwing it in the path of the capitalist freight train

  29. Thanks, Remy, because I’m really starting to wonder if I’m going insane. I thought I was writing something pretty straightforward, and though I expected controversy, I didn’t expect accusations that I was making shit up and arguing in bad faith — particularly not based on the particular-universal polarity.

  30. OK, maybe neither do I, but it seems to me that trade and accumulation are sort of social constants, that require constant pressure to eliminate. But you seem to be saying forms of previously existing trade would be acceptable.

  31. Maybe. But to say ‘universalism’ and ‘forwards’ without talking about how these activities will vanish leaves me at least with a big gap in the story. The advantage of the social democrats is that they have a messy and sometimes incoherent but tangible story, and their societies are mostly and for most people, pretty nice to live in.

  32. I agree that social democracies are nice. It also seems that particularly without the counterweight of the fear of communism (as in the postwar period), they’re going to be continually under attack and therefore very fragile. Look at the UK, for instance.

    And no, I’m not providing a detailed solution in this blog post. I apologize for that.

  33. Zizek seems to think so, but I think that he’s being overly simplistic (moving toward a universalism that implies too much uniformity) and that Hardt and Negri are the only ones working toward any kind of positive leftist project I can take seriously — though I find Zizek’s diagnostic work on “what went wrong” in past revolutions to be a great contribution.

  34. i appreciate H&N’s stuff also (re: commons, etc), but I find their social and economic analysis a little ‘thin’ sometimes, which makes me wonder if Zizek is right when he throws support behind a more Badiou/Lacanian-styled politics of “the point”, the gathering of forces under a master signifier.

    Mind you, doesn’t Zizek often talk about appropriating ‘fascistic’ discipline for leftist purposes? So maybe some work can be done with ‘distributism’ after all.

  35. I view Zizek as ultimately looking for a form of politics that would move beyond the master signifier. Also, in that essay he says that “discipline” is not just a right-wing value, and I would agree with that.

  36. kotsko, another great post. i completely agree with your take on universalism and the notion that capitalism is universalizing and that the ONLY, ONLY solution is one that is also, universal. i am surprised however, that you buy H&N’s critique, as i view their work to be advocating the very positivity of particularism that you oppose here in this post. as in local struggles, variable identities–as i am sure you are aware, this is one of the fundamental critiques of their work. wondering if you could elaborate here. i view H&N as being very much in the camp of Post-colonialists, cultural studies folks–in other words–historicity and not ontology (universal claims). your take?

  37. ja, I think you’re correct regarding H&N. Their particularism does not seem to fit into what Adam wants to do. Then again, he only claimed to have taken them seriously and not that he actually endorsed their project.

    Adam, to what notion of universalism are you referring? [n.b. to all: universal and particular do not have to be seen as poles, as, for instance one finds in Hegel et al. Since, Adam has defined particularism as something that rejects universalism, then let’s operate under this understanding of the term. I think Adam has been clear on how he sees these things operating even if I wouldn’t define the concern in the same way.] Are we speaking of universal-as-global or universal-as-categorical? Badiou is a good example of someone making ontological claims in the latter but political ones in the former. (A few years ago, he was “eaten alive” in a Q&A at SPEP regarding this.) Are you suggesting that we establish some “universals,” axioms or something akin, whereby we can then establish a universal replacement for capitalism?

    I don’t assume that you share the same sympathies to post-structuralism as I do, but I would think it somewhat naive to suggest a return to “universals,” whether it be Plato, Descartes, or Badiou. If anything, I think we can sure that being historical situated means that we have no access to anything universal-as-categorical.

  38. My favorite line of today:

    “But capitalism once didn’t exist. I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

    When I say this to my students, they look at me as if I just said the most absurd thing they’ve every heard. Serioulsy, the logic of capitalism and its ability to expand and (what follows is certainly to be contested) sublate any form of resistance. It is so “succesful” that people assume that it has always been around. I mean, come on, without the incentive to work produced by capitalism, why would anyone ever work hard or be creative? How could we have reached such a great point of human history–innovation, longer lives, the internet!, and chicken-nuggets in the shape of little dinosaurs.

    …and what were human beings doing for millenia prior to its inception? Student reponds, “What? But its always been here.”

  39. Are you then suggesting that we simply replace it with something else universal? It can’t be that simple? You wrote, “Capitalism is a universal and universalizing force, an amazingly adaptable and expansionary force that can bring seemingly everything under its sway. As such, any solution to that problem has to operate on the same level of universality.” I’m not sure that I understand why this is the case. Why could not a particular instantiation of resistance, one that is not universalizing, affect the universal, in this case capitalism, in a way that de-territorializes the universal and causes it to restructure itself in a new mode (preferably one that is more life-affirming than captialism)? This seems to be what Hardt/Negri are trying to do today or Deleuze and Foucault were doing decades ago.

  40. Mark,

    I understand your remarks, but I do think that H&N actually do hold to a universalism of a kind. Well, it’s a communism, but that is precisely why their ideas concerning particularities are interesting (as is Deleuze’s). I think this gets borne out a bit more in people like Dussel and Laruelle under different forms. The poor for the first and the generic for the second. In this way it takes on board the post-colonial project without falling into the very strange idea that if we just have the right ontology (what does that mean?!) we get revolutionary society. I actually have a lot of sympathy for Badiou’s politics though, he is certainly a man of principle, even if I am annoyed at the way he goes after people like Negri. I think it creates a broad difference where a small one exists.

  41. Mark,

    How would you deal with the fact that for Deleuze and Guattari it is precisely a global issue? Their conception of de-, re- and normal old territorlizations are a bit more nuanced than de-territoralization = good, as you know.

  42. If a particularity can affect the universal in a durable way and move it in a more humane direction, then that’s great. In that case, though, it seems to me that it would be a universalizing particularity, in that its effects would be propagated universally.

    I have continually returned to the term “universalizable” as a counterpart to universal — not because I think that capitalism can be replaced wholesale with something else (that’s not how capitalism came to hold sway), but because only something universalizable is going to have the endurance and growth necessary to one day overtake capitalism. The types of principled particularisms that reject the idea of universalization are not bad because universalism is good or something like that — they just can’t work. They’ll be either absorbed or destroyed. Only something with the strength and dexterity to outflank capitalism and make genuine, durable inroads can possibly hold out the hope of replacing capitalism.

  43. I’m basically asking for political strategists to add the question “okay, what would it look like if we tried to do this everywhere?” to their assessment of various strategies. The counterexample of localism/ruralism is crucial here, because you can’t implement it without presupposing a massive die-off of the human population (which, to be fair, might actually happen) — and then of course they’ll say, “But that’s not what we’re after, we don’t go in for grand narratives, etc.” To me, that kind of attitude means admitting up front that you’re going to be ineffective and purposefully so.

  44. Adam, this all makes sense. I suppose I’m just wondering why a particular form of resistance that becomes absorbed cannot actually be said to have caused a “new” universal? It sounds as if you don’t think this is possible at all. If this is the case and you’re correct, then I’m depressed. Only a god can save us.

  45. I do see the idea of what you’re going for, a kind of virus injected into the system that causes a fundamental mutation. But that’s what’s so insidious about capitalism: it’s constantly mutating, yet all in the service of its fundamental imperative — accumulation of surplus value.

    Capitalism has changed form many times in its (relatively brief) history, but I’ve never seen that imperative budge an inch. In fact, we’re now seeing it actively cannibalize almost all of the reformist supplements that were supposed to tame it — corporatizing of universities, privitization of government services, attempts to privatize Social Security, etc., etc., basically using the welfare state as a new source for “primitive accumulation.”

  46. ok, your last comment was posted while I was typing. Fair enough.

    Anthony, I’ve asked myself the same question about Deleuze. I’m not sure I have any clear answers, just particular strands of thought that I can’t seem to connect just yet. Not trying to avoid the quesiton, but for now I’d just respond by noting that the ontology of D&G is quite different than Badiou or Negri/Hardt; the discourses are too different for me to quicly move back and forth. And yes, of course “good/bad” language is not at play here (I don’t think I said good/bad earlier). FYI, Villanova’s conference, “Return to Metaphysics,” might be of interest to you. I’ll let you know when there’s a cfp.

  47. Regarding some of the comments on H&N — technically speaking i don’t think it’s universalism, insofar as the commons, or the act of commoning, is central. Or as they would say a network of networks. Or I as would like to say, interparticularity. Which of course doesn’t mean it’s simply particularity either. Just a note, i suppose, to say that i think that at this point one sees some interesting openings being pursued that neither be localist (or whatever) nor universal. It’s the question of constitution, and it’s the reason, i think, why it is that they are able to advance a positive political project.

  48. isn’t what is so crucial about zizek’s discussion of universality (that he claims is an extension of hegel’s) that there is an irreducible tension between the universal and particular. this is what makes him an ontologist and in my opinion, what separates him from the likes of Hardt and Negri. so in this, there is something, if you buy this idea, true or fundamental or essential about universality. so that i would be willing to put forth that there something about universality, categorically AND concretely/historically. isn’t this strange gap or threshold we encounter, this limit, precisely the truth about universality and thus, capitalism as such. so, capitalism while a historical fact, to be sure, and not always having existed (but universalizing in nature) is countered by or can only be countered by a universal truth, which is whatever you want to call it, “generic”, “the commons”, “equality”. isn’t this Absolute, and in fact, an ahistorical quality, instantiated by the very historicity of capitalism itself–again, the nature of the dialectic confronts us with a gap or limit. my point, is i think the conflict of the particular vs. the universal that may be adding to this confusion re: this post is b/c there is a limit-ontological-that we cannot grasp. and i think, perhaps, we are evading the problem by dancing around the reviled notion of an absolute truth, which one commenter nicely framed as the Badiou situation, he being lambasted for making similar claims. but what if the very reason universal claims are ever able to “outflank” capitalism, is because of an eternal truth about universality itself, as an ahistorical category. can universality be redeemed from the post-structuralists, post-colonialists, derrideans, etc? I don’t think this means “only a god can save us now” but it does suggest something very mysterious about our, dare I is say, UNIVerse. and i think political change or resistance will have to confront this opposition and the way history has affected such opposition (the particular being “good” and universal “bad”–especially in the way of identity based politics), i think this may be the most significant political challenge of our time, and i would add, this is a fundamentally, ontological problem and really reduces to belief. i take it this is what is meant by the distinction btwn One-all and Non-all. cheers.

  49. AUFS watchers will be pleased to learn I’m currently preparing a long post on ‘what’s wrong with localism’ that should provoke a good old set to.

  50. I’ll offer a thought beyond the “rhetoric policing” of doubting an actual argument advanced at this blog (in response to which I was invited to comment at the blog rather than by email) about the ethical and strategic validity of fighting rhetorical fire with fire (now that that’s been declared both annoying and exhausted by . . . this blog’s rhetoric police). Alas, the mutual annoyance continues.

    Moving on. I’m not sure why I should find this new categorical imperative (“okay, what would it look like if we tried to do this everywhere?”) any more persuasive than Kant’s version. I’m not even sure it’s different than Kant’s version. And it looks to be every bit as ahistorical. So localism (which never really gets defined) is wrong because were it generalized or universalized (the Kantian maxim) it would lead to mass starvation. I think this is supposed to flow from observations about how millions of people depend for daily subsistence upon industrial agriculture, and that without Big Ag, which localists abhor, we’d wipe out the food supply to millions. I say I think this is the argument, because while I’ve seen the mass starvation meme pop up here and there at AUFS, I haven’t really seen it substantiated with argument.

    The meme only makes sense if you abuse the movement by turning it into what it’s trying to avoid—becoming an abstract program for social change that ignores local realities. Inherent in the work of someone like Berry is a critique of the attempt to universalize a solution to our problems in exactly this way. Indeed, Berry thinks that such attempts are a key part of what has brought us to where we are. He is well aware that many of these efforts have been done with the best of intentions.

    Moreover, American-style capitalism, allegedly the univeralizing catastrophe we’re trying to think and practice beyond, also fails to pass this test of universalizability. You cannot universalize American capitalism because you can’t universalize 5% of the world’s population consuming 40% of the world’s resources (or whatever the exact stats are). So the number crunching market-dominators who could give a rip about, Kansan particularity, let alone Kenyan or Sri Lankan, and are therefore rather flippant about the ecological devastation wrought by their soil-eroding monocultural agribusiness practices, are actually deeply embedded within global capitalist forces that are themselves failures according to Adam’s test of universalizability, even though the test is meant to sniff out contemporary proposals that have the merit of being at least as universalizable as those forces.

    If capitalism is really the current high water mark of universalizability, perhaps we need a different test.

    APS, do you have a link for the Grey Ecology talk? I read the AUFS posts, and I think you make some good points about limitations in the environmental movement. Yet as many commenters pointed out, these very criticisms have been made repeatedly by Berry and others. But I’d like to hear more, if there is something to listen to online.

  51. I think we need to distinguish between universalization and homogenization. The profit motive is operative in every form of capitalism, even though the forms it takes in different places are different — French capitalism has a lot of features that distinguish it from American capitalism and Botswanan capitalism, but all three remain capitalism because the profit motive is operative.

    You also have a lot of argument about how best to actualize the profit motive — if the path to profits were obvious and objective, then there would be one rich guy who owned everything, presumably. The oil-based economy is one way to enable accumulation, but there are a lot of people who argue that eventually market pressures are going to force capitalists to develop alternatives. Switching from oil to solar and wind-based power doesn’t necessarily bring with it the abolition of the profit motive. Maybe you think that capitalists in point of fact won’t develop renewable energy and will just let the planet go to shit, and maybe you’d be right — but depending on the circumstances, alternative energies could also be compatible with the profit motive (and a lot of government policy is devoted to creating those kinds of circumstances).

    The particularity of the American way of life is not universalizable, but that’s not what capitalism is — capitalism is the accumulation of surplus-value. It’s going on over 99% of the planet and there’s no reason to think the other 1% can’t be brought on board, precisely because capitalism is amazingly adaptable to particular conditions. You can accumulate surplus-value in endless ways. We don’t need to do a thought experiment to see if the imperative to accumulate is universalizable — we just need to look around us.

  52. Charlie, although I’m skeptical of Adam’s position, I do think that you’ve misunderstood what he’s claiming. Capitalism is what is being universalized, not the particular instantiations of it in, for example, the U.S. To claim that capitalism is universal (able to absorb all forms of particularized resistance), does not mean that all human persons will have X amount of money or resources. The logic of capitalism, according to Marx in _Kapital_, is that is expands indefinitely. “Indefinitely” needs some nuance because Marx did not foresee that capital would excel beyond that which can be supported by some means of production. In other words, in a fiat currency, once there is no longer a material resource to “protect,” let’s say, the dollar, capitalism becomes impenetrable to anything non-universal. “We’re now seeing [capitalism] actively cannibalize almost all of the reformist supplements that were supposed to tame it — corporatizing of universities, privitization of government services, attempts to privatize Social Security, etc., etc., basically using the welfare state as a new source for ‘primitive accumulation.'”

    Charlie, take a look at the comments starting Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 6:18 pm. I really do think that Adam has already responded to this criticism.

  53. Adam and Mark,

    Point taken about the difference between the logic of capitalism and the American way of life. And well put. So then the Kantian-like criterion is meant to sniff out a logic about economy that’s at least as universalizable as the capitalist logic. The criterion cannot be too closely tied to particular efforts to instantiate the logic, since that gets us into particular ways of life. But this just seems to throw the challenge back onto the folks who dismiss distributism and localism out of hand, especially since the criticisms never seem to grapple deeply with the logic of those positions, but rather with perversions of them (turning localism into an abstract and universalizable program for global renewal leading to mass starvation) or with denunciations of particular instantiations (some early distributists were fans of Mussolini)?

  54. Does this happen to you often, Adam? I mean, it happens all the time on AUFS, even when you’re trying to “clarify the reasons behind [your] preference.” Perhaps it’s because you too polemical, too sarcastic. You’re typologies obviously suck because, well, they’re typologies!?!? Perhaps if you signed each comment with something like “peace of christ” or “in christ” or “through/by christ,” then people would become more generous readers.

    by his grace and in his hands, MWW

  55. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion, Adam, that we in fact understand each other fairly well. We disagree about some things. We criticize each other’s positions because we know there are differences we don’t like. We also both make mistakes on occasion, we sometimes oversimplify, we sometimes fail to take a point, etc. What’s personally harder for me to understand is all the umbrage taking and pity partying and bizarre anti-evangelical-piety swiping that’s regularly elicited by this sort of exchange.

  56. Charlie, I think your question now is closer to the issue. Adam’s concern is that the particulars will be sublated into the logic of capitalism. Capitalism will reconfigure itself in order to withstand the particular forms of resistance. Hell, one of my students today was wearing a Che t-shirt that she bought at the mall. Or, Wal-mart is now selling organics, free-range, and open-atmosphere foods. [perhaps bad examples?]

    Here’s where Adam and I start to part ways: I’m still holding out on there being some type of particularity that has the force to significantly disrupt capitalism. I don’t have answers (yet) as to what this might be, but I’m still leaving open the possibility that such answers might exist. Adam is convinced that any disruption to capitalism has to be brought about by something that is universalizable as well.

  57. My comments at Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 10:16 am were just general reflections about how this happens to Adam often. It had nothing to do with any one person in particular. I’ve just noticed that it’s a common theme on the blog. Honestly, it was just my attempt at making myself laugh in the midst of what I take to be the very depressing future of capitalism.

  58. Charlie, Just now you seemed to misunderstand what I was saying about universalism. I clarified, and now you seem to see what I’m saying better. I apologize if I seem to be pity-partying here — not my intention, probably a result of the ever present “tone doesn’t transmit” problem.

  59. Comic relief via The Daily Dish, kinda sorta on topic:

    “[NPR executives] are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view. They don’t even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda.”—Roger Ailes

  60. I thought I had narrowed the most salient trait down to icky logo, depressing fashion color, or awkward arm movement, but Roger Ailes has helped me see more deeply into the truly horrifying core of narrow-mindedness.

  61. TRUE STORY: before WWII, Olivet Nazarene University had a student group known as the “Swastikans.” Back then, of course, it was a positive symbol and they couldn’t have known what the Nazis would do — but it’s still bad atmospherics, particularly since the yearbook in which this group is documented had “KKK” (for Kankakee) on the cover.

  62. So, just so I’m clear, Charlie is annoyed that certain strains of thought are dismissed without us basically agreeing with them? I mean, seriously, what exactly would it take to convince you of a position? What do you want out of this conversation? I’m no more likely to embrace these two positions than you are to concede that localism leads to starvation. Right? I’m asking for some clarification on the usefulness of this conversation.

  63. I don’t see how a new universal could come about in any other way than what Mark is holding out hope for. If I recall, even for Hegel in the Preface to the Phenomenology, there can be interim periods where one universal is challenged (from within?) by a particular which eventually becomes the new universal. This is in part why I find William Connolly’s points in _Capitalism and Christianity_ about experiments (e.g. Mondragon Corporation), multiple experiments, that can jostle and possibly reconfigure capitalism to be intriguing and worth emulating. To repeat, how could a new universal come about but through such particular attempts? While I think Adam is right to highlight capitalism’s ability to sublate such particular attempts, awareness of this is no argument against their necessity.

  64. Just so we’re clear: I am not against particularity. Any potential new universal would start as a particularity, just as capitalism started in a particular time, place, and culture. What I’m opposing as particularism is the attitude that particulars have to remain non-universal because universal things are bad by definition. Obviously there are no universals without particulars and there’s no ahistorical universal — that’s the entire point of what I’m saying, that’s why I keep using the word universalizable.

    Mark’s idea of a particular that causes a significant and durable mutation in capitalism appeals to me as one potential option alongside building a new universal “from scratch,” if you will.

  65. Another option is something like H&N’s approach, where they try to find outgrowths of capitalism that inadvertantly conflict with capitalism’s goals — finding the self-generated seeds of capitalism’s destruction and cultivating them for revolutionary ends. All of these would start with particulars because we’re all finite and limited beings.

  66. Finally, I realize I haven’t really responded to “ja,” but I hope you can see how what I’ve been saying the last few comments fits with the tension you’re pointing out between universal and particular — or maybe you think it doesn’t.

  67. hey adam, yeah is see where you are coming from, and i agree. though, i don’t think my point has been addressed or maybe it has just been missed. i guess i have always thought, since i began reading zizek, that there is something much more radical in his claim to universality. or maybe i am wrong. but let’s, for argument’s sake, say i am right. so, i think there is something fundamentally good about “equality” and something fundamentally wrong with capitalism. this is not historical, it is in fact an ahistorical truth. so, i like badiou and z. for some of the reasons that others find them to be imminently threatening, and one of those reasons is that neither are afraid to make some absolutist claims about Truth – both want to resurrect ontology, which is a bad word in most circles. and i think this is connected to what i would also call an ahistorical fact: a tension btwn the particular and universal, the particular being realized through the universal and vice versa. that there is a tension here that literally quantifies, qualifies, substantiates the universal/particular–that this is what might be referred to as a dialectic, it is a limit that language imposes, that cannot be overcome, that this limit is the truth of our existence and that difference is grounded in this limit. so what if this is sort of like a natural law, for lack of a better way of putting it? like gravity or something, the universal that is…and that a communist horizon is the realization of that universal–i take it this is the notion posited by many and is not my own, or perhaps i am reading it that way, but i think this is accurate. what is your take, if you have time, thanks and sorry for pressing the issue, i just feel it is an important point that shouldn’t be overlooked. thanks again.

  68. APS, I was not annoyed with anything you said, and I’m not annoyed with disagreement about localism and/or distributism. I was specifically annoyed by being invited to comment upon Adam’s further online reflections on a topic we were discussing offline, further reflections that included a claim about the utility of a rhetorical overreach mirroring the overreach of adversaries, and then not having my critique engaged but instead being told to stop the “rhetoric policing” because it’s just so annoying. Adam later went on to say more about about why he thinks rhetorical overreach is justified, which I find much more interesting if finally unpersuasive (though I haven’t yet said why, because this topic was said to have been exhausted). His umbrage was in my view simply an effort to take debate off the table that I was invited to sit at. Perhaps you can explain why I shouldn’t have found that annoying.

    I don’t expect you to agree with me about localism and/or distributism. What I’ve been looking for is some critical engagement with the logic of these positions/movements—with what people internal to them are actually trying to do, much like you guys can be very articulate about the logic of capitalism—a critical engagement that justifies, or at least helps me better understand, what appears to be a wholesale dismissal of them. I think Michael Pollan has laid down some important challenges that deserve to be carefully reckoned with, but from AUFS I get the sense that he’s wrongheaded without knowing exactly why.

    I’m also hoping that your ideas about alternative practices might come to view in the process. I know a little bit about what localists and distributists would have me do. Plant a garden. Join a CSA. Compost. Get rid of my front lawn. Stop shopping at big box stores. Move my money from Bank of America to a local credit union. Ride my bike to work. That sort of thing. I’m not sure what the allegedly more universalizable alternative being advocated here actually calls for in terms of my daily life. What difference would it make?

  69. To chime in, I feel like I understand you much better Adam, and honestly, I really like your formulation as regards capitalism and what you are calling “particularism.” My remaining question, which is at the heart of my initial chafing about this, is whether or not “particularism [as] the attitude that particulars have to remain non-universal because universal things are bad by definition” is essentially characteristic of right wing thought. Would this mean right wing thought is inherently opposed to universals? Like I said, I think your definition of particularism works and results in a helpful characterization of strategies towards the overcoming of capitalism, but it still doesn’t seem to map meaningfully on to “left” and “right” any more. That we should all have our tribes, nation-states, whatever and get along as peacefully as possible seems to be a universally oriented goal, in the exact same way that “accumulate surplus value.”

    I basically took you to be saying “only the Left properly conceives of universal strategies towards the eradication of capitalism,” and this seems clearly false to me, at least as you’ve subsequently clarified your terms.

  70. And to build on Charlie’s most recent point and offer some hopefully constructive criticism, if Adam’s right wing solutions are fantasies, it seems that in a commensurate sense, his universal solutions are inconceivable. I realize this is sort of an empirical claim, but I’m just pointing out that it does have practical purchase, which is precisely the reason the claim about right wing strategies being fantasies sticks, from the point of view of “what should I do, then?”

  71. It seems to me that a more charitable definition of the right wing (as regards dismantling capitalism) that remains within the wheel house of this discussion would be something like: “right wing strategies focus on particularity as the most fruitful and effective strategies for the development of an ethos sufficiently robust to disrupt capitalism.” This is along the lines of what MWW is saying, and I think operationally, it is borne out in the appeal of the right wing with respect to Charlie’s question.

    I realize one could also say that this emphasis on particularity is simply an intellectual front for the society of looting, but that amounts to the presumption of bad faith, in which case, none of this is worth discussing.

  72. Charlie,

    It still isn’t clear for me what you want. I have given talks on this (I assume you know how to search on the blog) and I have linked to a number of articles in the past, in addition to writing other blog posts that you can find as well. If you don’t find them persuasive, well, fine, I don’t care. I plan to turn them into a longer book one day, but only after I can get the funding to do that. Though, of course, the point of some of my critiques is that things like “ride your bike to work” and other small things in your individual life don’t work much outside of a large scale localism and that a large scale localism is untenable with a human population the size that ours is (that’s simple math). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do things like recycle or ride your bike to work, I do those things too, but it does mean that you shouldn’t feel warm fuzzies about them or think that they are anything other than a band-aid.

  73. “I realize one could also say that this emphasis on particularity is simply an intellectual front for the society of looting, but that amounts to the presumption of bad faith, in which case, none of this is worth discussing.”

    Right, because one must assume that the Right-wing is full of good people who truly want to make the world a better place?

  74. I’d like to think you are capable of discussing ideas without psychologizing about hidden motives. You rightly bristle when people do the same thing to you. If you think the essential characteristic of right wing thought is intrinsic moral bankruptcy, that’s fine, but let’s not pretend that that is an intellectual position.

  75. I sympathize with Charlie’s frustration, as stated in his last post. All justifications of generalizability due to “typology” notwithstanding, I too still lack a sense for precisely which ruralist/localist movements should be rejected according to the initial typology.

    It doesn’t seem to me that the Berry/Pollan-types Charlie is pointing to actually do, or would have any reason to, reject that the style of economic practice they are calling for, as a practical alternative to global capitalism, is in principle not “universalizable” as Adam has come to use the word. Perhaps they haven’t made clear what a global form of such practice would look like, and there may be something philosophically condemnable in that, but I don’t see why that makes the logic of either their critique of capitalism, or the practical alternatives they are trying to develop, less-universalizable than capitalism.

    It is possible that you (Adam, and maybe APS) are lumping these agro-localist types in with right-wing “defense” strategies (and I fully agree with your critique, there), rather than active opposition, because of their practical starting point, rather than the actual logic of their practice?

  76. One thing that I actually like about my definition of right-wing is precisely that it catches more than you’d think — that it also includes a lot of people who are genuinely well-meaning and would not want to be associated with anything right-wing.

  77. But it also misses a lot of what the rest of the world means when it says right wing. If anything, it seems like you could get more mileage out this as a way to reanalyze traditional right/left dichotomies in search of insight.

  78. I, for one, am not out to defend right-wing strategies as more resilient than you give them credit for. I basically accept your Left (alternative) – center (liberalism) – Right (defense/incorporation) typology. But, like I said, I don’t yet see how the logic or rationale of the kinds of movements Charlie is pointing is essentially excluded from being a “universalizable” alternative. (And I’m admitting that may just be because I’m just not as well-read as you and APS in this area.)

  79. I suppose that maybe I shouldn’t just take their word for it, but Charlie has repeatedly said that what’s so awesome about these movements is that they reject the idea of universalization as a goal. I’ve said before that we should see if there are ideas within these movements worth poaching, so maybe some of them really are “de facto” universalizable. It just doesn’t seem like they’re going to be universalized if the people in charge of them are really glad they’re not the kind of bastard who universalizes stuff.

  80. Hill, could you say more about what Adam’s typology misses about what people mean by “right-wing”? I tend to think of left and right primarily as historical traditions, which are inevitably not going to be totally reducible to conceptualizations. However, opposition to universalism is a pretty central strand within the right-wing tradition, going back to the counter-enlightenment, so I don’t think Adam’s typology is a re-analysis of left/right dichotomies, rather, it identifies a conceptual coherence which is really exemplified in the (more messy) right and left traditions.

  81. I don’t really see Charlie saying that, nor do I see the people Charlie mentioning saying that. I just think there is ambiguity about the word “universalizable.” When the concept is invoked by the people in question it seems to mean that a bottom up strategy is the only hope of success. That’s not the register in which I take you to be using “universalizable,” and it seems analogous to your affirmation of the requirement that particularity is important. If there is a unifying theme to people like Berry, Pollan, et al. it’s anti-state-corporatism, not anti-universalism.

    Do you have an example of a person who is “really glad they’re not the kind of bastard who universalizes stuff?” I just don’t see this as being an important conceptual feature of the movements in question. I understand your desire for increased global solidarity and mutual responsibility, but I think you are doing serious hermeneutical violence in trying to define this out of certain movements.

  82. I thought I detected Charlie changing tune on the “universalizability” of such movements once it became clearer you weren’t talking categorically, but practically. I mean, fair enough, they seem to spend more time talking to local farmers’ unions and doing Democracy Now and PBS interviews than writing political theory or organizing on a grand scale. But until we have something more practical on the table….

  83. If I had to pick a distinction that I thought cut a clearer path, it would be between top down and bottom up strategies. There are obvious problems with either formulation, but this seems to capture more of what is meant by left and right, at least right now. I realize that it becomes blurry (but it’s a typology!!!). I have a sense that a kind of top-down viability is something Adam is looking for in a solution, but I could be wrong there.

  84. ja, I view both Badiou and Zizek as thinking in terms of what one could call a “situation-bound universal.” In Badiou, it seems to be more easily formulatable in words than it would be for Zizek — for Zizek it seems like the universal is more in negative terms, the contradiction in the system, what it can’t handle, rather than an imperative coming from “outside.” What’s more, both Zizek and Badiou claim that “truth is subjective,” essentially, insofar as you only gain access to the universal truth of something through an engaged, partial, partisan stance — in both cases, this would be the “leftist” stance, and they both have ways of trying to show how the “rightist” stance is a kind of put-on. (Not saying you don’t know this or are saying anything different — just trying to lay things out so you know where I’m coming from.)

    The passage I’ve had in mind in connection with all you’ve been saying is I think from Ticklish Subject where he reverses the conventional wisdom where a universal gives birth to particulars (a diagram that has a U with little P’s coming off of it), claiming instead that each particularity gives rise to competing attempts at universals (a diagram with a P and little U’s coming off of it). I think what I’ve said about universalization as a result of struggle fits with what Zizek is saying there.

  85. Get in a workout and lunch, and you miss all the fun.

    Just a couple of days ago my officemate and I (surely in an unwitting nod to one of Adam’s new books) were recalling high school rap music, and my colleague begins to sing “Face Down Ass Up” by the 2-Live Live Crew. And now this, at AUFS. The end is nigh.

    Adam, I’ve searched for the offending passage in my email correspondence, and this is the best I can do:

    “In other words, I’m a Christian pacifist (a redundancy in my view), and I learned (among many other things) from Yoder that what you seem to think of as ‘realistic solutions to our problems’ are but reproductions or reiterations of the epistemology of establishment, or the Constantinian habit of thinking from the perspective of power or the helm of history. Anything that couldn’t be implemented on a global scale as a full-blown alternative to global capitalism is a fantasy, according to your logic as I understand it. I think that’s a Constantinian logic, and indeed one of the reasons so many Yoderians have discovered a love for Wendell Berry is that he too rejects this Constantinian logic, without naming it as such (it’s also why Romand Coles, as a radical democrat, likes Yoder, and why some readers of Yoder have become mesmerized with Sheldon Wolin’s stunning work in ‘Politics and Vision,’ for Wolin sees that modern state power is actually at odds with genuinely democratic action and therefore exactly the wrong place to look for a real political alternative). Berry would not advocate for the transformation of the globe in one concerted fell swoop into some master localist plan (which is what would be required for your mass starvation scenario to even be thinkable), because he repeatedly disavows such Big Plans.”

    I thought it was clear from this paragraph that I read Berry through Yoder, who, as I’m sure you know, does anything but reject, out of hand, universalization. In his essay responding to Lessing’s famous challenge, Yoder argues that “the particularity of the incarnation is the universality of the good. There is no road [across Lessing’s ugly broad ditch] but the low road. The truth has come to our side of the ditch” (Priestly Kingdom, 62). And in another essay in the same book, Yoder signals the ongoing and tentative nature of this low road to universality by saying, “the only way to see how this will work will be to see how this will work” (45). In other words, the work of universalizing requires the virtue of patience as it moves from one particularity to the next.

    Moreover, the reference to Wolin was meant to suggest something about this low road. Wolin’s fugitive democracy is helpful here because Wolin shows modern state formations to be intrinsically anti-democratic (and I think we can gloss anti-democratic as anti-universalizable in any desirable sense) and that real democratic/universalizable action is fugitive, on the run, or out of the control of state officials, breaks out here and there, dies down, comes back, etc. Maybe that’s a way of thinking about Berry’s resistance to the Big Plan. Here’s a snippet from an interview of Wendell Berry by Michael Pollan that sort of brings all of this together:

    “WB: Another thing is happening with this country … I’ve been calling it leadership from the bottom. People are seeing what needs to be done and just doing it. An example, Alice Waters, just started. Kids need to be learning about gardening and food, and without asking anyone’s permission, she just started. … The growth of farmers’ markets is not a political program, that has happened because people wanted it to happen. The growth of community farms is not a political program, there are people in the department of agriculture who have no idea it is happening.

    MP: You call yourself an agrarian.

    WB: Well, not when I’m at home by myself.

    MP: Well, out in public, you articulate that agrarian ideal, and often this word falls oddly on the ears of many, or might sound archaic, or a term of opposition to urban life. Can there be urban agrarians?

    WB: I think what we’re beginning in this country, we’re beginning to develop a population of urban agrarians. It begins with examination of one’s own food economy, and realizing how passive and ignorant they are of their own food economy. From that recognition of ignorance and passivity, they move, sometimes, to their own garden in their backyard or food plants in flower pots, which I recommend. … They go to farmers’ markets and get acquainted with farmers. Many farmers have hospitality days, people go out and often even work on the farm. This mixing back and forth works like any encounter between people in categories. .. So people who’ve known farmers as country people or even hicks come face to face with them, and farmers who have viewed city folk as ignorant … find they speak the same language, belong to same species, and that it’s possible for interest and affection to bind them together. In this way, we are developing in our culture a necessary agrarian theme.”

  86. Which is to say, I don’t think the point of these dialogues is ever to convince your direct dialogue partner — if they’re not firm enough in their position to be able to withstand a blog conversation about it, the dialogue’s probably not going to be very good. So I don’t think me convincing Charlie should be the standard for whether it has been successful (or vice versa). That’s also why I think a lot of the “rhetoric policing” is misguided — sometimes you want to highlight the difference between two positions rather than come at it from a conciliatory direction, for example. The fact that what I say might piss off Charlie (or vice versa) doesn’t mean the conversation has gone off the rails and become useless (though it could become useless if all we talk about is how pissed off we are).

    The real purpose behind these dialogues is to perform the disagreement for the lurkers — and maybe, maybe convince someone on the fence to take your side. But if you’re debating against someone with a strong enough self-identity in their position to be willing to even enter into argument in a serious way, no, of course you’re not going to convince them through a conversation like this. People come to their convictions over time, and serious change also requires time.

  87. I know I am leaving this thread more satisfied than many seminars I have sat through. I suspect I speak for more than a few when I say that many of these exchanges (though Lord knows not all) are really shaping a certain mode of critical engagement with these issues. This and a handful of other spaces have provided this academic drop-out some much yearned for education.
    In any event . . . much appreciated.

  88. Adam,

    I like this last point about the strength of positions being the condition of possibility for performing disagreement. I still want to convince you and be open to being convinced by you. If I get the sense in a critical engagement on some topic that my interlocutor absolutely refuses to take a point, even a devastating point (i.e., one that goes to the heart of their position, then I’m likely to be convinced that such a refusal is a reflection of a weakness and not a strength in the opposing position). And of course that’s what will be thought of me if I do the same. And as you say, dialogical disagreement fails as a performance due to such weakness. It fails if there’s a naked refusal to be persuaded on points small and large by parties to debates. I suspect that lurkers get turned off by such failures rather quickly. Just to be clear, I don’t think that happened in this exchange (although APS’s “I don’t care” remark sort of hints in that direction, or at least suggests he doesn’t think he has anything to gain from performing disagreement here; he also seems to have missed my comment above that I did read his AUFS posts on Grey Ecology, that I agree with some of it, and that I welcomed him letting me know where I could read or listen to more).

    I’ve thought more about this issue of “rhetoric policing” in its original context (reduction ad Stalin vs. reductio ad Fascism). You made an interesting follow-up point about the grain of truth in each reduction. If THAT is truly what those reductions were being deployed to illumine, I’d be more willing to except your typology’s hyperbolic gathering up of unusual suspects under the banner of a right-wing banana peel to fascism. However, I think it’s clear that the reductio ad Stalin (or, in Jonah Goldberg’s case, reductio ad Fascism) trope used by right-wingers is not really about highlighting a grain of historical truth. Rather, the point is to shore up a political coalition by using the reduction to get fellow conservatives to avoid thinking, to avoid engagement with their adversaries, to avoid the kind of critical dialogue that could change their position. Jonah Goldberg wants not just any people to think that every form of leftist politics has its end in some sort of fascism (liberals rightly think he’s a wingnut)—he wants conservatives suspicious of government power never to be tempted to actually engage liberals on any topic. He wants to preempt debate by gathering together unusual suspects under a scary banner. It’s this particular purpose that worries me, and I’m not entirely confident that your own purpose is dissimilar.

  89. Someone could read my typology in two ways. They could say, “Oh, I never really thought of my localism as being on the right side of the political spectrum — since I don’t like right-wing stuff, maybe I need to rethink a couple things.” Or they could say, “Hey, localism is on the right side of the political spectrum — maybe the right wing isn’t as uniformly destructive as I thought!”

    Obviously I’m very strongly opposed to right-wing stuff personally, and my “third way is fascism” rule reflects that. The typology itself is more neutral, it seems to me.

  90. I resolved the tension by systematically dismantling my aversions to fascism. I intend to write a short monogram in defense of fascism, but I need a good title.

  91. If the whining takes off in earnest from here, we might get to 200 yet.

    Adam, perhaps you can explain to me sometime how your episodic spleen venting contributes to the dialogue you otherwise chastise people—even when they’re advancing actual arguments in response to your own—for breaking down.

    I say, if you can’t stand the heat, don’t construct the kitchen.

    In this very dialogue you pride yourself on making interesting connections (and that’s all a typology is, interesting connections; and I’m in complete agreement that the most interesting typologies make the most unsuspected connections) that snare unusual suspects in a common political type. Yet when someone dares to suggest (“I’m not entirely certain”) a connection that snares you, we get another outburst of umbrage. For a guy fond of Kantian universalizability, you seem to have a hard time watching it in action.

  92. I’d be more certain that you’re not doing anything like Goldberg if I noticed you actually engaging the logic of the most interesting localists or distributists. It’s been repeatedly pointed out in this thread and others that Berry’s position is not what gets caricatured here. But it would seem—seem! I’ll admit I’m wrong if you show me otherwise—that your typology-cum-third-way-is-fascism has freed you from needing to do anything of the sort.

  93. Maybe it’ll clear the air if I just come out and apologize for responding negatively to a statement designed to make me respond negatively. I’ll never whine (i.e., respond appropriately to some dumb thing you say about me) again.

  94. I’m confused. You’ll never respond appropriately again?

    Come on, let’s drop the b.s. and either end the dialogue or engage the arguments. I’ll come away with some good things to think about either way. But I didn’t say anything dumb about you that was designed to get you to react negatively, any more than you think your typology/third way = fascism is dumb and meant simply to piss people off. If you can’t see the similarity between my connecting one downside to your rhetorical overreach with a similar downside to Goldberg’s, fine. Maybe others will. Maybe not. But this is going nowhere.

  95. Third way = fascism is the definition of an insulting comparison. So I guess we should have all just blown a gasket in defense of Wendell Berry rather than engage your thought.

  96. It’s noteworthy that what you’re calling an “insulting comparison” is not an ad hominem argument, and not logically fallacious in any way. You just don’t like the way it feels. I’m happy to concede the comparison is wrong, but you’ll have to drop the umbrage and make the argument.

  97. Hill kind of has blown a gasket about the comparison a few times. That’s fine — I haven’t deleted Hill’s comments when he seems to me to be doing that.

    And my response to your comparison of me to Goldberg is that it’s idiotic — i.e., I’m exercising my right to dismiss your claim rather than engage with it. You could do the same thing with any claim of mine. It’s called being a human being in a conversation. There’s no law that you have to be totally open and civil and take everything seriously, nor that emotions can’t get involved.

  98. Charlie, perhaps be as direct as possible with what you’re wanting to know. For instance, ask Adam the following:

    “Adam, what exactly is your critique of Berry, particularly his views on X and Y?”

    I think he’s already given an answer. However, if you don’t think he’s done so, then ask as directly as possible.

  99. Remy, if you’re still reading the comments, could you explain this:

    [Remy Says:
    Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm
    maybe we should provoke APS and blame Deleuze/Deleuzians for this turn to ‘multiplicity’ in leftist politics]

    Were you asking a serious question or joking?

  100. To clarify: My basic criticism of Berry is that his ideas are nostalgic and unworkable on a large scale. It doesn’t cease to exist as a criticism just because you disagree with it, or because you think I haven’t read enough of Berry’s work to be qualified to make it, or because you don’t think I take Berry seriously enough, or because you’re otherwise unsatisfied with it. That’s my criticism. That’s as far as I’m taking it, because I’ve read some Wendell Berry and don’t really care to read more.

  101. Mark, I this part of the conversation is exhausted. At least I’m exhausted by it. Adam has clarified something we’ve already disagreed about, and I doubt another trip around the block will change anything at this point.

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